When a Knight Won His Spurs



Knights were men of war.  Is it really possible that they were all as chivalrous and gentle as they were supposed to be?


The sources on these pages give some examples of knights and noblemen behaving badly.




Study this webpage, then answer the question sheet by clicking on the 'Time to Work' icon at the top of the page.


The following websites will help you research further:


Medieval warfare:

• KS3 BBC Bitesize on medieval warfare  


• review of a book on cruelty and atrocity in medieval warfare (difficult) 

• review of a book on medieval cruelty (difficult) 


1  Knights in the reign of King Stephen

King Stephen (1135-54) could not control his barons and knights.  As a result, there was a civil war England.  This is what happened, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (1137):

They captured any men and women who they thought were rich.  They put them into prison and tortured them to make them hand over their gold and silver.  They hung them up by the feet and smoked them with foul smoke.  They tied knotted rope around their heads and twisted it till it entered their brain.  They put them in prisons with adders and snakes and toads, and so killed them...

2  The Crusades

A knight and troubadour called Bertrand de Born wrote this letter-poem to King Richard the Lionheart in 1194, to try to persuade him to go on crusade:

I love it when fighting soldiers scatter the people and herds in their path...

Let each noble man think of nothing but breaking heads and arms – I tell you, I enjoy nothing in food or wine or sleep as much as hearing the shout of 'At them!' on both sides, and the cries of 'Help! Help!', and in seeing the dead.


3  Knights killing civilians

The Cathars were a religious movement popular in the south of France in the 13th century.  For more than a century, they were persecuted and massacred until they were wiped out.  This picture illustrates an incident when, in March 1210, Crusaders led by the English knight Simon de Montfort captured the town of Bram in southern France.  As an example, Montfort picked 100 men from the town. Their noses were cut off, their lips cut off, and their eyes gouged out. Just one man was left with one eye so he could lead the others home:



4  Edward II and Queen Isabella

Edward II and Queen Isabella hated each other.  He was homosexual.  She and her nobleman lover deposed him, and had him horribly murdered.


5  The Hundred Years' War

During the war, the English army conducted 'chevauchées' – scorched earth campaigns where the knights burned, looted and killed everything in their path.  Honoré Bouvet, a French priest, complained in The Tree of Battles (fifteenth century):

Nowadays, the man who does not know how to set places on fire, to rob churches and imprison priests, is not thought fit to wage war.  I think it is wrong when a man-at-arms takes a woman and does her shame, or sets fire to a church. 

In these days all wars are directed against the poor working people.  I do not call that war; I call it robbery.


6  Knights Looting a Merchant's House

This picture comes from an illustrated history of France (late 14th century):